The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

Answering Abu Aardvark

Abu Aardvark asked over the weekend some of those who post on this site two questions: "do you have any comments on the Al Ahram Weekly reporting?  And, how has the Arabic language Egyptian press (not just the state-owned media, but the tabloids) been covering these stories?"

Here is my response. Regarding the Weekly's coverage, what you have to understand is that although it is a state-owned newspaper it has a large margin of independence and is mostly staffed by leftists (the editor, Hani Shukrallah, has a portrait of Karl Marx in his office) who are broadly sympathetic to the reform movement. But these are quite a different type of leftist than the run-of-the-mill trade unionists. These are mostly middle and upper class people, whose commitment is more ideological than anything else.

Amira Howeidy is one of their best reporter, and seems quite ideologically different from her father, Fahmi Howeidy, a highly respected Islamist-leaning columnist in the daily Al Ahram. I'm not very familiar with Mona Nahhas. But their articles seem to me fairly sympathetic -- if not overtly pro-Al Ghad, especially the interview with Ebeid. As for raising the kiss of death issue, it is a crucial one, as we'll see when discussing the Arabic press coverage of the Al Ghad affair. I think the editorial team of the Weekly is fairly representative of conventional Egyptian thinking on America: they know all to well that America has been a problem, not a source of help when it comes to domestic freedoms in Egypt. Most of the staff is also very dedicated to the Palestinian cause (and very much against the occupation of Iraq) and this also informs their opinions on the kiss of death issue. They are probably right -- let's face it, America is a dirty word here, for both good and bad reasons.

As far Arabic-language press coverage, the state-owned dailies (Al Ahram, Al Akhbar, Al Gomhouriya) initially reported the Nour arrest in the crime pages -- a kind of pointed insult suggesting that the matter was criminal rather than political. Among the independent press, Al Masri Al Youm has had the best and most prominent coverage -- its executive editor is a senior member of the party, after all, and there are sympathisers on staff. The weeklies were predictably bad, with my favorite being Sawt Al Umma multi-page feature on "Ayman Nour's plan to seize power" and how he wanted to imitate Ukraine's orange revolution (the Al Ghad color is orange, you see.) It also talked about Nour's suspicious wealth, and distastefully, reported that Nour was feeling suicidal, which some people have interpreted as a thinly veiled threat. The curious thing is that the big pundits, so far, have chosen to focus mostly on Sharm Al Sheikh and the generalities of the movement for constitutional reform. (Ahram head honcho Ibrahim Nafie came out in favor of reform, "but not just yet.") Apart from a few publications, the trend seems to generally be a little hostile to Nour, although I think still not as hostile as the treatment Saad Eddin Ibrahim received a few years ago.